Deep pockets and political puppets: Inside Comcast's merger machine

All across the United States, Comcast is propping up a puppet regime of local politicians ready to do its bidding

businessman puppet pulling strings
Credit: iStockphoto

I’ve been binge-watching "The West Wing" so hard I fell into a coma. The InfoWorld SWAT team had to kick down my door and Taser me back to consciousness. Even newly lucid, I miss my glimpse into the lives of this great nation’s politico-sociopathic complex. Not the White House kind -- I’d need to, like, know stuff for that gig. I’m more attracted to state- and municipal-level gigs.

Do little, bow and scrape for money, smile for the camera, rinse and repeat. Every once in a while take a soft stand on an issue, have a flunky write a meaningless release you can leak to the press, and maybe get your name on safely inscrutable legislation yet another flunky wrote for you. Throw a few buckets of scotch in there and I’m hot-tubbing in heaven.

I mean, writing these posts is so hard (cue high-pitched whine). Wouldn’t it be nice if I could get someone else to write them while I get byline credit? Therein lies what’s frying my clams on this fine day. Apparently, if I were a low-level pol and didn’t mind selling my self-respect for a dirty nickel, I could get someone else to write these posts and let me sign them ... as long as I’m OK with Comcast doing the writing.

Comcast seeds the Astroturf from the ground up

According to depressing but not at all shocking news that came out earlier this week, low- and midlevel politicians all over this great and bribable nation are sending letters to the FCC expressing deep and not at all financially influenced support for the unholy union that is the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger. That already makes me want to take a bath with my toaster, but here's the real kicker: Neither these jokers nor the drunken monkeys manning their PR desks could be bothered writing the letters themselves. Instead, they had Comcast do it.

Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Ga., is a prominent figure in this drama. Last August he allegedly sent a letter to the FCC sharing his oh-so-genuine excitement about the proposed merger and assuring Mr. Wheeler that the residents of Roswell simply adored Comcast and would freely deliver wine and backrubs to their executives if it would help move the merger along. That sounds great -- only Wood didn’t write the letter.

Purportedly, a “vice president of external affairs” at Comcast authored the work and sent it to Wood's office. Wood stopped wrestling with that afternoon’s sheet meat long enough to add a “thanks a bunch” sentence, print it on official city letterhead, and sign his name. I’m amazed the feckless zombies on his staff could work up enough collective saliva to moisten the stamp.

The Comcast lobby engine is belching forth these missives because the TWC merger is at the tail end of its federal review process. To help the travesty along, Comcast has the yams to refer to these letters as evidence of deep grassroots support for the merger from John Q. Public as ostensibly represented by their local Boss Hogg leadership.

The Comcast army, from coast to coast

It can do that because Wood isn’t alone. There are others – many others. For example, a letter supposedly written by an official from the metropolis of Jupiter, Fla., was actually penned by Comcast, then polished by a former FCC exec named Rosemary Harold who now practices telecom law (gnash teeth, bang head, dent wall) in Washington, D.C.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is another alleged FCC pen pal who supports the monster-merger. She too sent a “love it” letter, and it too was almost entirely written for her by a Comcast employee. Like Wood, Brown padded it with a few sentences, stamped it with the Oregon seal, and sent it to Wheeler’s inbox.

Why is Comcast going to the trouble of ghostwriting letters for a bunch of municipal baby-kissers? Simple: In order for the merger to be approved by the FCC, Comcast and TWC need to demonstrate it’s in the best interest of the public. Sure, that’s kind of like Bill Belichick saying underinflated footballs were in the best interests of the Colts, but this is Washington -- logic and evidence are antithetical or at least irrelevant. What better way to land the impression of public support than by dumping a few bulging mailbags of sticky mash notes on the FCC’s doorstep from a legion of small-town politicians Comcast can buy wholesale?

Lazy, loathsome -- and legal

Is this crap illegal? Frighteningly, despairingly, painfully, no. Is it rare? Not even close; we’re talking mainstream according to the FCC. Though all the politicians listed here (and others according to the source) have a history of accepting Comcast campaign funding, there’s nothing on the books prohibiting this kind of low tripe as long as the honorable public servant in question has the ability to alter the letter as they see fit before signing their Hancocks.

But Comcast knows it doesn’t need to worry about edits. That’s too much effort to expect from our elected officials. Meaningful edits would require some semblance of understanding, which would mean (gasp!) work. Then there’s the 20 minutes it would take to write a draft, to say nothing of the epic moral heroism needed to stand on two feet and declare what’s best for your constituency, not your reelection coffers.

I know telecom law doesn’t exactly lift voters’ skirts, and if they’re unhappy it’s more likely that Bangalore Steve from Comcast customer support will have to suffer their griping, but damn, guys. Forget the letter of the law; if you can’t see something rancid in this transaction, you should be on a psychiatrist’s couch, not sitting in public office.

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